Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 19, 2001
The Gospel: Luke 12:49-56
Sermon: "Commitment and Struggle"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"
Commitment and Struggle
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - August 19, 2001
The seventh grade Sunday school class had gathered in their tiny classroom in the stone church on Sullivan's Island, SC. They were studying some of the stories of the Old Testament. One of the teenagers raised the following questions. I don't what to believe about the Bible. What is the Bible all about anyway? The teacher was a little startled by the question. While he thought about his possible answer he asked the class this question. What do you think about the Bible? The class got quiet. Then one seventh grade girl spoke up. She said, "The Bible is a very dangerous book. Once you read it you have to make a decision." This young girl made an incredible observation. Once we read or hear the Gospel we have to make a decision. We are required to make a commitment. The commitment is not based on scientific fact. This commitment is based on faith. Do we believe the Bible is the history of God acting in the world for our health and salvation? Do we believe in and follow the ways of God or do we place our trust in and believe in the ways of the world? Do we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
Do these questions make us feel a little uncomfortable? I don't know about you but they make me squirm a little bit. They make me squirm just as the reading from Luke today makes me squirm. These questions and the gospel today are integrally related.
Jesus tells the disciples he has not come to bring peace to the earth. Instead he has come to bring division. People will be divided even in the most fundamental unit, the home. Wait a minute. We call Jesus the Prince of Peace. In our prayers we pray for the peace and unity of the church of
God. We pray for all people. In the Eucharistic prayer we pray for all things to be brought under the authority of Jesus Christ. We pray for unity and yet, Jesus is telling us we will be divided. What is going on here?
Jesus has been teaching the disciples about commitment and priorities. The teaching actually begins with a parable of a rich man who spent his whole life accumulating wealth so he could spend his last years living the good life. He spent all of his time and energy accumulating material wealth. The night he says he has enough is the night the rich man dies. Jesus is telling the disciples to build treasure in heaven. They are to love God and to love their neighbor. They are not to worry about the material treasures of this world. They are to worry instead about their relationship with God and with one another. If they commit themselves to these relationships God will supply their needs. The issue is commitment and trust. The issue is faith.
In this issue of commitment and faith we struggle. Some of us will hear the Gospel and be like St. Francis. Francis began life with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had visions of grandeur. He wanted to be a soldier and win medals. He was in line to take over his father's business. Then he ran into the Gospel. After he heard the Gospel Francis began behaving strangely. He gave away his horse. He gave away his money. He even gave away his clothes. His father brought him
before the Bishop. He was reminded to honor his father. Francis stood before a Bishop, renounced his Father and all material wealth. He stripped off his expensive clothes and became the leader of the Franciscan order. Some of us may follow this example.
Others of us will hear the Gospel and not believe in the story at all. We will place our trust in ourselves and in worldly possessions and pursuits. We will place our trust in personal power, private gain, money, sex, drugs, or any other personal pursuits. Hitler is an extreme example of this type of individual. These people climb to the top on the bodies of those they have crushed beneath them.
Most of us, however, will live caught in the middle. We will live in the tension of being faithful and committed to God one moment and striving to achieve our every want and desire the very next second. Some times we recognize the miracles of God in our lives. For fleeting moments we see the glory of God. When we see a newborn child. When we participate in someone's baptism. When we recognize the natural beauty of the world around us. When we recognize that we breathe and yet, we don't understand how we took that first breath that made us alive. In those moments we are ready to say Yes, I believe in God with all my heart. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, I am committed to following my Lord and Savior. However, sometimes we will scratch our heads and wonder, God are you really out there? When something goes wrong even though we tried our best. When we try to help someone and they turn their backs on us. When we are faced with the death of a loved one or a child and we just simply do not understand.
We are faced with these moments every day. What do we do in these moments? I believe we have several responses. First, I believe we can praise God for the moments when we see the glory of God clearly. These incredible moments strengthen us. These moments increase our faith and our commitment to God. During those other moments when we question God I believe we can pray. We
can pray for God to open our hearts, our minds, and eyes to encourage us in these faltering moments. Finally, I believe we can wait. We can wait for God's answer and for God's help. For in those moments when we have doubts, when we question I believe God is nearer to us than we can imagine.
Commitment to Christ is not easy. The world is seductive. Our own sinfulness beckons us. Yet, our commitment, our faith, and those special moments when we feel God is near encourage us as we live in our daily struggle. The seventh grade teenager was right. The Bible calls for commitment. As we read the Bible our eyes are opened to see that all humanity is in the struggle of faith. Yet through it all Jesus calls us. Come and follow. Come and follow me.